What we’re reading: 16th April, 2014

Our booksellers share some of their favourite books of the moment…

The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie by Jon Ronson reviewed by Leilah Skelton at Waterstones Doncaster

Reviewed by Leilah Skelton at Waterstones Doncaster

I often have mind, in conversation with customers, to express how lucky I am to work in a bookshop; to be surrounded by these wondrous things – these bound stacks of printed paper that have such a profound effect on me. There is a magic in books, and this particular title sings with that magic. It is a whimsical, big-hearted novel with a love of books at its core. It’s probably quite obvious that as a person within the industry I’d love it just from the blurb – but there is something here that speaks to everyone that has books in their hearts (and in their hands at every opportunity).

What transpires within its pages encapsulates many aspects of an enjoyable, engaging story. There is love, loss, humour, hope, unlikely heroes, unravelling mysteries, tears and triumph. I raced through the bulk of this novel in almost one sitting, but found myself stretching out its final fifth, unwilling to leave the characters I’d met behind.

Each chapter is preceded by a note from A.J. Fikry to his daughter. These are his ‘Collected Works’. This is the suggested reading list that conveyed to him the life lessons that he himself would most like to convey to his daughter. It may be awfully clichéd to say it, but this is great example of how books speak to us, and can often speak for us, when we have failings of articulation or expression. This is a tribute to books, and the people who support them.

People like you.

The Explorer by James Smythe

The Explorer by James Smythe reviewed by Dan Lewis

Reviewed by Dan Lewis

I do wonder what the inside of James Smythe’s head would look like – he is probably the most original new sci-fi writer publishing at the moment. This is the third of his books I have read and each is more macabre and imaginative than the last. The Explorer is a sort of MR James meets HG Wells meets Star Wars.

The book begins with an apparently basic setup – shiny new spaceship with a beautiful crew going further into space than anyone has ever gone before. But within the first few pages you have already learned that all save one crew member has died in increasingly suspicious circumstances during the course of the mission and the surviving character, Cormac (a journalist), is left alone to try and get the ship back to Earth. The fact that the only survivor is also the narrator adds to the excitement. Did he actually kill everyone else? Can he turn the spaceship around? What do those numbers and flashing lights mean? Uniquely, the HUGE twist comes early on and is developed through most of the book, rather than coming at the end. This leads Cormac to go back in more detail over past events and as you learn more about him, the crew, and the mission there is plenty of material for the reader to form farfetched theories about how it will all end. And it ends in a funny, dramatic, and very ambiguous way.

I can’t wait to read the sequel – The Echo – and then his upcoming No Harm Can Come to a Good Man. The man is the definition of prolific!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman reviewed by Sarah Nuttall

Reviewed by Sarah Nuttall at Waterstones Leeds

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Gaiman’s first adult book in several years (since Anansi Boys) and is a compelling and beautifully written fable that will appeal to both his fans and those who have yet to discover this wonderful author. I am a fan of Gaiman’s work in every medium he has undertaken and am always enthralled by his ability to create incredible characters in imaginative and magical situations. Ocean did not disappoint and I was spellbound from the very first page. Our narrator is a man in his 40s who decides to return to his childhood home. Once there it awakens memories of his childhood where as a seven year old he became the link between dark forces and our world and had to face his darkest fears and nightmares.

Gaiman’s deftness of writing combined with the fantasy elements gives Ocean a dreamy, nostalgic feel that invokes the feelings of childhood whilst you’re reading the book. It’s impossible to not feel connected to the story as its childhood themes and fears are so universal and the prose so engrossing I could not put it down. In my opinion the uniqueness of the book is that it is both a new fairytale yet feels older, fantastical but also relatable, a fable yet the morals aren’t black and white. It is definitely one of my favourite of Gaiman’s novels and does share qualities with one of my other favourite books – Coraline. It is worth noting that Coraline is primarily aimed for Children whereas Ocean could be read by teenage fans, however there are more explicit adult issues and emotions that would make the novel unsuitable for his younger readers.

Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Borjlind

Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Borjlind reviewed by Lee Bilham at Waterstones Chelmsford

Reviewed by Lee Bilham at Waterstones Chelmsford

If you like your crime from the colder and more northern regions of the European continent and penned by 2 authors – both of whom have a stunning track record – then this is the book for you this summer. While you’re stretched out on a sun lounger somewhere, what better to keep you from burning and falling asleep than a page turner of a book with more twists and turns than a country road?

From the first opening pages to the very last I was totally hooked, gripped and desperate to get to the heart of the matter. I won’t go into too much detail here as to do so would give away the plot and that would spoil it for you dear reader. Trust me.

This the first part of a new trilogy doesn’t fail to deliver and I for one am eagerly awaiting the next parts.

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick reviewed by Lucy Hounsom at Waterstones Exeter

Reviewed by Lucy Hounsom at Waterstones Exeter

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade could be described as literary fantasy steeped in a kind of alternate history Italian Renaissance. Patrick’s world, Landfall, has its origins in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, where a ship, carrying a diverse cast of characters, is wrecked on a rocky shore. Patrick’s own cast is just as diverse, and like Shakespeare, he opens his story with dramatis personae.

I always feel a little daunted when presented with a list of characters I haven’t yet met, but this actually proved invaluable when I needed to check which character belonged to which ruling house. Each house embodies an area of expertise. They provide a solid structure around which Lucien’s story is built.

I can’t conclude without a nod to the best romantic scene I’ve read in a long time. I’ll try not to give anything away and say only that in the hands of a lesser writer, it had the potential to go horribly wrong. Instead we share a subtle, very real moment that manages to convey honesty, tenderness and just a hint of the awkwardness that’s a natural part of physical intimacy.

In conclusion, Patrick’s writing is practised, fluid and a pleasure to read.

ABBA: The Official Photo Book

ABBA: The Official Photo Book reviewed by Kerry Meech

Reviewed by Kerry Meech

If, like me, you are counting down the hours to the 10th May (this year’s Eurovision, of course), then you are in for a treat with ABBA: The Official Photo Book.

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of ABBA’s iconic Eurovision win in Brighton and what would become their meteoric rise to fame. With contributions from the band (including Agnetha!), as well as over 600 photographs, including pics of their couture (ahem) stage outfits and some pretty risqué shots involving Bacofoil, this beautiful book deserves a place in any pop aficionado’s bookshelf.

The Society of the Crossed Keys by Stefan Zweig

The Society of the Crossed Keys by The Society of the Crossed Keys: Selections from the Writings of Stefan Zweig, Inspirations for the Grand Budapest Hotel

Reviewed by Becky at Waterstones Bedford

When I heard that there was going to be a new film made to encapsulate the essence of Zweig I got rather excited; even more so when I discovered that it was to be filmed at the incomparable Grandhotel Pupp in the old imperial spa town Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad during the Hapsburg period) and would be starring Ralph Fiennes. It all sounded perfect. So I was very keen to read the accompanying book that was published to go alongside the film. I was right to be keen.

The Society of Crossed Keys is a wonderful introduction to all things Zweig. It features a selection of his writings that offers snapshot of his range and style. Of greatest interest to me was the selected chapters taken from Zweig’s memoirs, The World of Yesterday. I loved the depiction of early 20th century Vienna. I read as much as I can about this area and period, and am always so pleased to see just how little seems to have changed in the hundred years or so between then and when I lived in the city. These selections manage to be absolutely fascinating as well as amusing and containing some hints of the darkness that would soon overshadow everything else in the region. The section about University life is just marvellous. It combines a timeless account of student life with the idea of honour amongst students that is so uniquely Germanic.

To top the book off there is a transcript of a conversation between Wes Anderson, the director of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and George Prochnik who is Zweig’s biographer. This gives an insight into why Zweig’s life and work has started to fascinate readers again. So many of his novellas seem to be ripe for a new audience and this book alongside the film should open up his work to many many more people.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters – Daughter of Smoke and Bone 3 by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods and Monsters - Daughter of Smoke and Bone 3 by Laini Taylor reviewed by Emma Smith at Bedford

Reviewed by Emma Smith at Bedford

The final book in this amazing trilogy is definitley worth waiting for! The only problem now is…. it’s over. Fans of the previous two novels featuring Karou (possibly my favourite fictional character ever) will find this a complete treat to read and if you haven’t read the other two novels – why?? Do it now!

The pages of Dreams of Gods and Monsters crackle with sexual tension and longing, the fight scenes are awesome, the characters are fantastically well written and there are plenty of edge-of-your seat moments! All in all the final book is guaranteed to delight all Karou fans.

Saga: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples reviewed by Emy at Waterstones Bath

Reviewed by Emy at Waterstones Bath

A fantastic, brilliant, downright bizarre graphic novel. I challenge anyone to read this and not enjoy it wholeheartedly.

Two soldiers, from either side of a galactic wide war fall in love and become the most hunted pair in the universe. Along with their child, who narrates the story, they flee from armies and bounty hunters.

The writing is refreshing, the art style beautiful, the whole mix one hell of a story. I’m hooked.

What do you think?